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On a recent Thursday I found myself on the wrong side of Leonora and 4th as the 2.29 pm 554 Sound Transit Express was loading for Issaquah. Not risking dashing across two red pedestrian red lights I watched the bus depart knowing that the next trip was due at 2.46 pm. When I did get across I encountered about four others who had also just missed the bus including a rather irate lady who claimed that the driver left about 1 minute early. I didn’t really worry; my watch suggested that the bus may have been a few seconds early and I still might not have got across the street if I did have 15-30 seconds more time.

However, 2.46 pm came and went and it was not until just after 3.00 pm when what was presumably the 2.58 pm journey pulled in. By this time around 20 people were waiting and we all boarded. The bus turned into 2nd Avenue and proceeded very slowly in heavy traffic. At each of the various stops along 2nd about 20-30 more passengers joined and the inside became crammed with standing passengers. The driver then announced that she had contacted the “authorities” and stated that she was “overloaded” and was not going to pick up anybody at 5th and Jackson and would those wishing to get off go to the rear door. At the stop the rear door was opened, but not the front door; one or two people got off, but about half a dozen of the crowd waiting to board did manage to surge through the back door. The rest were left standing for at least another 15 minutes (some of whom had probably already been waiting for around 30 minutes) in the 95-degree heat.

About 1 week later I travelled to Eastgate from Issaquah on the 555 hoping to make a very tight transfer to the 5.23 pm 240 heading towards Renton. The 555 was running perhaps a minute early and made a slow entry into the park and ride. I didn’t see any sign of the 240, so assumed that I was going to catch it. On leaving the 555 I went over to Bay 2 to wait for the 240 and arrived there almost exactly at 5.23 pm. There were a good number of riders waiting. Time went by and all the other routes served at Bay 2 pulled up and passengers boarded. I noticed that there were at least four or five people who did not board any of the other routes, but it became apparent that the 5.23 pm did not seem to be running. At close to 6.00 pm the 5.53 pm 240 arrived and, as I suspected, several others who were at the Bay before me were also waiting for the 240. So if the 5.23 pm did run it must have been very early.

As we drove through the Factoria commercial district many passengers boarded at the stops and soon it was another overloaded situation with standing passengers crammed against each other. So almost certainly the previous trip did not run.

Of course a certain number of cancelled trips is inevitable; perhaps there are staff shortages and sometimes units develop mechanical problems. I notice that the King County Metro Twitter feed often announces a cancelled trip. I don’t follow Sound Transit tweets, so I don’t know whether they also announce cancelled trips via Twitter, but have noticed that King County Metro’s cancellations seem to cover only journeys to/from Seattle downtown. I haven’t noticed routes like the 240 having cancellation tweets. I do suggest that better customer relations are needed. Why can’t the bus operator be asked to apologize to passengers for the cancellation of the previous trip, especially if many passengers are forced to stand. In the case of the 554 above, the trip after mine should also have had an apology announced as passengers were left behind on the trip after the cancellation.

The Sound Transit driver on the 554 played several recorded announcements. One was to request those standing to move down allowing some room for those trying to join. These announcements do not always encourage everybody to try to move back, raising questions about lack of courtesy as it should be obvious that standing near to the front door is blocking access to standing room (and even sometimes empty seats) at the rear of the bus. Another announcement played at every stop from Mercer Island onwards was to request those who got on at the rear door to come to the front to pay. I didn’t see anybody do this and at the final stop, Issaquah Park and Ride, there was even the threat that Ticket Inspectors were awaiting our arrival. This turned out to be completely bogus as I didn’t see any sign of an inspection. Perhaps those who got on at the rear had passes or transfers.

A further example of passenger discourtesy is that it seems to be quite commonplace (especially on the bench seats at rear and middle of buses) to place a baggage item on the place next to where sitting and fail to remove it even when passengers are standing. This is also a common practice on Sounder commuter trains and seems to be a tactic to keep the seat next to you clear. Unfortunately, all too often this works as not everybody feels comfortable asking the offender if they would allow him/her to take a seat. Perhaps even worse when the bus is lightly loaded a few passengers put their feet up and rest their shoes on the seat, presumably not caring that someone will be sitting on that seat after they leave the bus. I hasten to add that these discourteous passengers (baggage and shoes on seat) are often respectable looking middle age commuters and not tear away teenagers. Perhaps these practices could be discouraged by King County Metro and Sound Transit by a note in leaflets such as “how to ride” and by occasional announcements e.g. “please remember to be courteous to other riders and do not place your bags or feet on a seat”.

5 Replies to “Cancelled Trips and Passenger Courtesy”

  1. No-shows are often not cancellations but the bus is so caught in traffic that it’s delayed until the next scheduled trip or its next run. If the next trip catches up with it then both buses come at once, called bus bunching. If its next run catches up with it, then it’s moot to cancel the lost run after the fact. I don’t know how reasonable it is to expect the busy bus dispatchers to send alerts about the dozens of late buses every hour, especially since they can’t predict when it will arrive and whether it will be a no-show, so if they say something it may turn out to be wrong. There are also buses that break down mid-run. That’s a de facto cancellation of the rest of the stops in the run and all its later runs that day, or maybe not if a substitute bus is available. But again it’s uncertain when a substitute driver will answer the call and when they’ll arrive, so if they alert something it may turn out to be wrong.

    The threat of ticket inspectors definitely sounds bogus. On Metro except the RapidRide lines, it’s perfectly valid to pay cash and not get a transfer, so there’s no proof of payment. Only the driver’s memory can distinguish non-payers, and if it comes to writing tickets that comes down to hearsay evidence and how reliable the driver’s memory is. It may be reliable for a single troublemaker, but not so much a dozen people going in the back door of a packed bus. Sound Transit doesn’t issue transfers, so nobody who pays cash has proof of payment.

  2. Its a long-standing problem that Seattle transit riders will try to ignore the ‘public’ from public transit as much as possible no matter how many leaflets or signs you post. It causes issues with capacity. It also slows loading (maybe even on the level as a cash payer) because each person is deciding who to sit with.

    For the seat hedge hog I’ve found that a polite ‘can I sit here?’ works okay. I’m one of those middle aged commuters though and aim to be rude but friendly about. Helps that I am now impervious to an eyeroll. Don’t care because it ain’t a high school cafeteria, folks.

    I feel for the ST driver because s(he) has so few options here. Because the DSTT is a good collector, Metro supervisors in the DSTT can get people to squeeze in better.

  3. Why can’t they announce driver shortage trip cancellations on One Bus Away? That’s where most riders turn when a bus is late anyway. Perhaps they do, because I’ve never had to wait for a canceled bus. (I’ve been on a bus that hit and sideswiped a wall, and one that hit a pedestrian, but I’ve never been downstream of a canceled run.) One Bus Away will reveal bunched buses too.

    1. I love it when OBA says -1 when the bus never showed up. It should say “No show”. Since it doesn’t know if the bus will come (because its previous prediction was wrong), saying “Cancelled” would be misleading, but “No show” would hint to people that it might or might not come, which is better than lying that it did come. Better because people might think, “I missed it; I’ll wait somewhere else for the next one”, and then the bus comes while they’re somewhere else.

  4. Bruce, wish I’d found this earlier. Next time any driver falsifies fare policy, or lies about fare inspection or anything similar, a form complaint to Customer Services, and a signed one to your King County Council-member.

    One more vacancy to fill, but better to find something more sanitary to pour in it. Because this one also carries a powerful stink of barrel-bottom-scraping hiring, coupled with miserable supervision and sorrier training. Anybody undecided about ST-3 on the bus with you, one more quick decision.

    Mark Dublin

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